In seminary, we often asked, “What does one teach children about death?” The answer is simple – they understand a lot more than we think. And, they can also tell when adults are not being authentic when talking about it. At Saint John’s School, the students found a way to talk about death through art. Many created shadow boxes which feature a clay representation of a person the student wants to remember. On the back of the box are two or three sentences about the subject of the box. In addition, the box is painted in pastel pink, teal, and purple as well as black and white for contrast. I hope to borrow a few of them this Sunday for you to see in the Narthex.
Curiosity propelled me to take a sneak peek at who the students were coming up with to remember this year. They are all fantastic. Many have descriptions of the person represented in the box as someone who they never knew but was loved by everyone in the family. Although touching, I could tell the boxes were not quite as authentic as the ones where a loved one was known by the artist.
The one that stands out for me is by Ximena (Heh-main-a). I don’t know what grade she is in as there are Ximena’s in most grades. This Ximena, however, spells her name with two hearts – one over the “i” and a heart after the “a”. In her shadow box, she created the most beautiful dog with
white fur, floppy ears, straight tail, black eyes and a pink collar. The box is colorfully decorated with green and blue back ground with pink pastel hearts. On the inside, the dog is standing on bright green grass offset by a blue sky, a tree and three sun shades. In pencil, Ximena wrote on the back,
“My dog and I used to play.
I would give her food and water.
I will always remember how you used to make me laugh.”
It makes me wonder if All Souls Day includes dogs. According to my fancy Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, it is a day to remember the “faithfully departed” which became universally accepted in the Church in 998. I also wonder when it is appropriate to remember the un-faithfully departed. After all, faithfully departed is a Christian code word for those who died in the faith. Prior to 1969, it was obligatory to include the chant, “Dies Irae” which means day of wrath. Unfortunately, the twenty pound, 1786 page tome has no listing for Day of the Dead. In fact, the rules for Dia de los Muertos say nothing about who can be remembered. Traditionally held in cemeteries, it is perhaps assumed the celebration day is for humans.
Does All Souls/Day of the Dead include pets? According to Ximena, it does. She is the foremost authority on her own grief. For her, this day is a time to remember her dog. Do dogs have souls? For Ximena, her dog does. Is it worthwhile to remember pets that we love but see no longer? According to Ximena, and me, it certainly is.